Let’s be real about death.

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Jn. 11:25).

Concerning death, modern American Evangelicalism can seem much more like Epicureanism than biblical Christianity. The ancient Epicurean philosophers taught that the key to happiness is the experience of pleasure and evading pain. Death, being the ultimate pain, must be avoided and ignored. Many Evangelical funerals today have become “celebration of life” ceremonies or some other kind of forced-happiness occasion.

Biblical Christianity is much grittier and more direct than many of us might think. The Bible speaks much of suffering and death, and these ugly foes are confronted head-on. The Bible gives expression to what we know deep-down about suffering and death. Death is awful. Death is painful. Death is bad.

The Bible also speaks of a sure victory over death and suffering for those who look to Jesus Christ, who has already conquered such things. In fact, Jesus’ power over death is so certain that He calls Himself “the resurrection and the life.” Anyone who believes or trusts this masterful Savior will certainly and joyfully live, even in the face of death.

Commemorating the Lord’s Death

“…proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes(1 Corinthians 11:26).

While we would likely prefer to avoid hard and uncomfortable topics, God addresses them head on. Our loving heavenly Father graciously gives us truth and wisely meets us where we are. God doesn’t pretend bad things are not really bad, and He doesn’t merely give us empty one-liners in a superficial attempt to make us feel better.

Instead, God gives us a suffering Savior who triumphs through defeat. While the whole world clamors for power, God the Son voluntarily gives Himself over to humiliation. While humanity seeks to be free from woe and grief, the God-man presents Himself as the willing sufferer. What is this?! What kind of King… what kind of Messiah… what kind of God?!

God gives us real hope for all time and a promise of victory forevermore, not by forcibly and immediately removing all suffering, but by entering the suffering Himself. One day we shall finally be free from suffering and death, but until then we commemorate the death of death in the death of Christ, our Lord.

Mortal Fear & Tranquility

I cannot remember ever thinking of my own mortality before I was 30 years old. If someone had asked me if I believed I would die someday, I would have said, “Yes… sure I will die one day; everybody dies eventually.” However, I think it would not be inaccurate to say that I did not believe such a thing back then. The temporary nature of this mortal life was not a thought I entertained because I am inclined to believe that I am impervious to death.

Even today, it is unusual for me to think much about the end of my time on this earth (though the thought is increasingly recurrent in my mind). However, in the language of the author of Ecclesiastes, “life under the sun” is indeed temporary. My own temporality is the source of exasperating anxiety and the cause of sincere trust. Both of these thoughts and feelings are the result of my concentrated meditation upon my own mortality.

On the one hand, when I think of my demise, I am horrified. My illusions of control or ability or autonomy are ripped from me, and I am left utterly exposed to powers greater than myself. I feel as I imagine I would if I were to find myself standing on the precipice of an unknown world, with the only certain information being that there are countless others within who are exponentially more capable and knowledgeable than I am. The land of eternity is a boundless intimidation for me. I am helpless, weak, and ignorant.

On the other hand, my thoughts of the eternal future turn to peace and tranquility when I remember that Christ is both Lord of eternity and my beloved Savior. Oh, the reversal of emotions I feel when this thought breaks in upon the previous anguish! The turbulent sea immediately becomes serene. Where anxiety reigned, now peace has dethroned and routed the debilitating tyrant. What I shall experience in the unknown world, I still know not; but this I know, the One who created and rules all worlds is He who loves and cares for me.

The temporal nature of this mortal life is indeed a paradoxically painful and joyful reality for me. I know that I am temporal, dependent, and mortal. But Christ, who is my God and Savior, is eternal, self-existent, and lives forevermore.

Immortality for Everyone? Yes, & No…

“Jesus said… ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…’” (John 11:25).

All humans know that death is certain, but somehow many people still seem to think that they can avoid or at least delay the inevitable. Our generation is by no means the first to crave immortality; I remember historical accounts of many European explorers losing themselves (and everything else) in search of the ‘fountain of youth’ somewhere in the South American jungle. The human race has a built-in longing for eternality, and the Bible explains our fascination in striking terms.

Jesus Christ is the only human to have ever conquered death, and this makes Him the authority on the subject. He said two things that are vital to understanding the biblical view of life, death, and immortality. First, Jesus said that life was not just something He had, but life is something He is. Jesus said, “I am the life” (Jn. 14:6); and, speaking of Himself, Jesus also said, “the Son [of God] has life in Himself” (Jn. 5:26). Second, Jesus said that everyone would exist forever, but only some would live eternally. Jesus said, “all who are in the tombs will… come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn. 5:28-29).

The combination of these two things might be understood like this: Those who are connected with Jesus, who evidence this connection with goodness, will live forever. Those who are disconnected from Jesus, who evidence this disconnection with evil rebellion, will die under God’s judgment forever.

May God grant that we are counted among the former and not the latter, that we would be joined with Christ and live in Him forevermore.

Death is Life’s Definitive Equalizer

Last weekend was emotionally demanding. I received phone calls from two different sources, and each reported the death of a person I knew. A 92-year-old man had been part of my church family for years, and I had spoken with him several times about his impending death. When he died, it was no huge surprise, but it still stings.

The other news of fatal events focused upon one of my younger brothers. He was 29 years old, and he died of a gunshot wound on Saturday.

Saying it out loud and typing it here still feels strange… My brother is dead.

On Saturday night, I was lying in bed beside my 9-year-old son and my wife. I was making some last minute adjustments to my notes in preparation for officiating the older man’s graveside funeral service on Sunday afternoon. My wife and son were playing and talking beside me, and they were not trying hard to keep from distracting me. Once I finished, we talked a bit and prayed together, and then I carried my son to his bed.

Coming back to my own bed, I returned a call from my dad that I had missed a short time earlier. He relayed the terrible news, “Eric was shot, and they could not save him.”

Thoughts raced through my head. I recalled having said (on more than one occasion) that my brother would likely end up dead or in prison if he remained on his current path, but understanding the logical progression does not prepare one to absorb the decisive reality. Eric had been on a path of self-destruction for many years, with varying degrees of vigor. It seems this end, for him, was inevitable, but it is not welcome.

And yet, the middle-class, war veteran, upstanding citizen, nonagenarian still faced the same end as my brother. Of course, the means were quite different. My brother faced an abrupt end while he felt he was at the height of his life’s energy; and the old man died while he rested peacefully in a hospital bed after his days of vitality had long passed. But, the fact remains… Both men died.

This is the haunting reality that every person cannot escape. I will die. You will die. We will all face that dreaded and immediate removal of all of our illusions of power and grandeur. While we may pride ourselves on our ability to elude that final foe thus far, his stamina and success is sure.

This is what makes death life’s definitive equalizer. No matter what you do, you, like everyone else, will face death on equal footing – with your feet planted firmly in midair.

What will you do with this knowledge? How will you ease your anxiety?

The Bible tells us why all humans experience death, and why we all face such an enemy without hope of escape. All humans die (sooner or later) because of our collective rebellion against God’s divine authority (Rom. 5:12). All humans remain under God’s condemnation because of our collective disobedience (Rom. 5:16). Therefore, we are equally guilty before God, and we will face the judgment we deserve – no matter how much we tried to make ourselves believe otherwise in this brief mortal life.

And yet, there is hope. Not a hope in you or me, but hope that comes from God Himself.

God sends grace instead of justice, and provides genuine hope for all those who will trust Him, in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:21).

Jesus, the Son of God and God the Son, was born perfect, and He lived perfectly obedient to God’s authority. This morally pure God-man was counted as the vilest rebel before God who ever existed when He hung on a Roman cross. God poured out His unbridled fury against rebellious sinners on Jesus Christ, and this incomparably gracious substitute died. Jesus died. He, like all humans, died. Ah, but His death was the death of death itself!

In the death of Jesus Christ, the ultimate penalty for sin was paid. All those who look to Christ (who trust in Him as Rescuer, Redeemer, and Ruler) may rest assured that Christ’s death counts for them. Furthermore, Jesus Christ conquered death by resurrecting to eternal life. Indeed, He promises that all who love and trust Him will enjoy the same resurrection He experienced, and such a glorious end is the bedrock of hope.

So, what will you do with this knowledge?

I know what I do with it… I cling tightly to this Christ who has loved me so. I ache to know Him more and long to be with Him in eternal glory. Daily, I recount His promises, contemplate His work, and ponder His character. In times of greatest trial, when I am tempted to despair and even disbelief, I squeeze tighter to the divine hands that always maintain their grip on me.

Hope in times of suffering, pain and loss

While a young mother was changing her two-year-old daughter’s clothes, she heard Bella’s tiny voice.  Pointing to herself, Bella asked, “I cansoo?”  Leslie, Bella’s mother, was used to interpreting her daughter’s attempts at communication, but this word was new.  “Say it again,” Leslie said.  She needed to hear it again in order to make a good translation.  “I cansoo?”  Bella tried the question once more, but still the word was not clear.  Then Bella pointed to the scar on her tiny body that was left when her chemotherapy port had been removed, and said “Port.  Out.  I cansoo?”

Leslie was overcome with the stark reality of the whole situation, but she was able to maintain her composure for the moment.  Leslie said to her little girl, “Bella, are you saying cancer?”  Bella’s eyes widened and she responded, “YeahI cansoo?”  With a lump in her throat, Leslie said, “Yes baby, you have cancer.”

Bella is still enduring the effects of this terrible disease, but every human to one degree or another experiences suffering, sickness, emotional distress, and general discomfort.  In fact, the grim reality of mortal life is that it eventually ends in death.  However, people have ways of coping with this reality, and life seems to go on – at least for some.  What are we to do with our sense of helpless weakness?  Should we deny the inevitable by thinking that sickness and death are oddities?  Should we eat, drink and be merryfor tomorrow we die?  Is there any place that we may turn for truth, stability and strength?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there is stability and strength to be found in truth.  Yet, the basis for hope may not be what one might expect.  The reason that humans may have hope, especially in times of great distress, is that there is one who has died before us.  But, how can death provide hope for those plagued by death? It is not only the death of another that provides hope, but it is the subsequent display of divine authority and power.

Jesus Christ, the eternal God, was no ordinary man (John 1:14).  His life was lived in perfect obedience to God’s law (Hebrews 4:15), yet He died as one condemned – cursed by God (Romans 3:25).  While Jesus was perfectly good and righteous, He endured the full wrath of God as a sinner of the worst kind (Isaiah 53:4-6). At His moment of death, Jesus spoke out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  This was to claim that the punishment for sin was thorough, and God’s wrath against all sinners who trust in Christ was exhausted.

Following this atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ conquered death – not for just a little while, but never to die again!  This is where hope may be found in times of painful distress.  This mortal life, under the curse of sin and power of death, is not all there is!  Read the words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (v3-4).

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (v20-22).

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (v54-58).

In the life, death and resurrection of Christ we who trust in Him are assured and comforted. In Christ we are able to see our sin for the ugly offense that it is and God’s gracious grace on beautiful display.  In Christ we are able to see death, the final and ultimate foe of all mankind, subdued and overcome by the power of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.

Therefore, the hope… the stability… the strength… the inclination to endure is not that we will be spared from pain, sickness, disease and death…  No, but even in these things we are victorious because of Christ (Romans 8:37-39)!  Oh, Christian, look not only to your temporal merriment, but fix your eyes upon the hope of glory!  Behold the King of splendor!  Lift up your gaze to the eternal, true and living God, who is the Savior of your soul – the steadfast promise keeper.

This life may be marred by difficulty, pain and sin, but our glorious future is more wonderful, more beautiful, more stimulating than anything we have ever known.